Prayer According to Jesus
Passage: Luke 11:1–11:4
Prayer According to Jesus
The Scottish pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne, once said, “Do you wish to humble a man? Then ask him about his prayer life.” That’s true, isn’t it? For Christians, it seems thinking about prayer is just as likely to discourage us as it is to encourage us. Why is that?
Any honest answer must begin with the pervasive prayerlessness of the Christian church. By and large, we struggle to pray. Both individually and corporately, there are regular seasons where prayer wanes and other things rise to take priority. And because of this, anytime we think about prayer, we quickly find ourselves discouraged. Who doesn’t want to grow in prayer? Which of us is satisfied with our level of zeal or fervency in praying to the Lord? And so, McCheyne’s critique rings true. Ask me about my prayer life, and my first instinct will be to think of all the ways I need to grow.
But here’s the surprising thing. While McCheyne’s insight accurately reflects our attitude about our praying, it doesn’t accurately represent Jesus’ attitude about our praying. In other words, we quickly feel discouraged that our praying is weak, but that’s not how Jesus would respond to our praying. “How do we know that,” you ask. Because of our passage here in Luke 11, specifically because of the easy-to-overlook setting in v1. Notice it with me.
Jesus, as he usually does in Luke’s Gospel, is praying. That alone is striking. Jesus was a man of prayer. The second Person of the Trinity – the Son who is equal to the Father in glory and might and power – this Jesus was a man of prayer. We see it all through Luke’s Gospel – at Jesus’ baptism, Luke 3; after seasons of intense ministry, Luke 5; before important moments of decision, Luke 6; during his greatest hour of trial, Luke 22. Through and through, Jesus was a man of prayer.
But here in chapter 11, Jesus’ normal pattern is broken up by something unique. One of the disciples asks Jesus to teach them how to pray. John taught his disciples to pray, and now, Jesus’ disciples seek the same instruction. And notice Jesus’ response, brothers and sisters. This is so important. Jesus doesn’t begin with a lecture on the dangers of prayerlessness. He doesn’t lay out some complicated, impossible practice that will only further a sense of inadequacy. Instead, Jesus pauses his own work of ministry, and he teaches these men a simple way to pray. It’s a remarkable display from the Lord Jesus, and it should remind us that when it comes to prayer, Jesus’ aim is not to discourage us. His aim is the opposite. It’s to encourage us to pursue the kind of prayer that honors God and does good to our souls.
I want you to keep that in mind this morning as we consider this text. You may think that your prayer life is pretty weak, and you may be well aware of all the ways you need to grow. But don’t allow your perspective to discolor Jesus’ response. At the heart of this passage, what do we find? Not a harsh teacher who heaps guilt and weighs us down with burdens we can’t carry. We find a Savior who responds to our need with patient, clear, and life-giving instruction. Jesus wants us to pray, brothers and sisters, and he shows here how we can find life in doing so.
As we look at the details, we should note first of all that the title The Lord’s Prayer is a bit of a misnomer. This is really the Disciple’s Prayer as taught by Jesus. It’s a model, in other words – a framework that gives shape to our praying. That means we don’t have to recite this model prayer word-for-word, though there is value in doing that from time to time. The idea is to give us a vision that will both inform and shape the way we pray.
Since this prayer is a model, what is the theology that upholds it? If we were to sum up prayer in one sentence according to Jesus, what could we say? Here’s my simple answer, based on the passage. Prayer, according to Jesus, is a God-centered act of faith. By contrast, prayer is not a duty-focus act of obligation. Neither is it a me-focused attempt to control God. Rather, prayer is a God-centered act of faith. That’s our simple summary.
Now, simple does not mean simplistic, so let’s flesh this out a bit more. What characterizes this God-centered act of faith? I’d like us to note four characteristics that I hope will encourage us to lay aside our discouragement and embrace the simplicity of Jesus’ way to pray.
We Ought to Pray as Children Secure in God’s Love
According to Jesus, we ought to pray as children secure in God’s love. You’ll notice that Jesus begins with an address to God. Look at v2. How should believers address God in prayer? We should address him as Father. Now, in the OT Scriptures, the idea of God as Father was certainly present in Israel’s life. Think of Exodus 4, where God tells Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son.” This notion of God as Father is not entirely new to Jesus’ disciples.
But at the same time, the way the title is used here is profoundly new. Notice there is no qualifier. The address is simple – Father. That simple form speaks to a familiarity that is unique within the Judaism of Jesus’ day. This is how Jesus speaks about God – as his Father – and now here in Luke 11, he teaches his disciples to do the same. The believer does not come to God as a servant; the believer comes as a child. And God is not addressed as Master, though he is certainly Lord of all the earth. Rather, God is addressed as Father.
And so, brothers and sisters, what we ought to see here is that the bedrock of all believing prayer is this truth – that God is our Father. Think about what this says about our relationship with God. When it comes to a father and his child, who takes the initiative? The father, of course. Children do not make themselves. The initiative lies with the father.
And so it is with God. As the Father, God has acted to make us his own. That’s where we start in prayer. The address in v2 is not simply a title. It is a declaration of God’s grace. It’s a proclamation of God’s redeeming love. When we say, ‘Father,’ we are proclaiming that God has acted to make his us own. We did not come to God by our might or wisdom. God, in his grace, came to us. He determined to save sinners for himself. He sent his Son to be the atonement for their sins. He ordained the preaching of the gospel so that we might be saved. He worked by the Spirit to give us new life in Christ. And he adopted us as his sons and daughters, so that we are heirs of all things together with Christ.
All of that gospel truth – all of that theology – is packed into this little address – Father. When we pray, that’s where we start – not with our initiative, not with our effort, but with God’s love that has made us his own.
And brothers and sisters, this should change our view of prayer. Prayer is not a transaction or a negotiation. It’s not a sales pitch, attempting to persuade God to hear us. That way of thinking belittles the love of God. He does not hear our prayers out of obligation. God listens because he loves. He is attuned to us because he has adopted us. Do you see the difference that makes? When I begin with God and his gracious love, prayer becomes less of a duty and more of a childlike response to a Father who delights to respond.
Prayer is a struggle at times. There is such a thing as learning to labor in prayer, and by that, I mean praying even when you don’t feel like praying. But here’s the difficult point we need to come to grips with. Much of the time, our prayerlessness is telling us that our view of God is too low. Our struggle to pray is pointing out a deficiency in understanding the gospel. Who is God, for the believer? He is my Father, and therefore, I pray.
In fact, when I struggle to pray – which happens often – I go back to those verses in the Scripture that help me see God for who he is. Romans 8.32 – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” And then I pray. 1 John 3.1 – “See, what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” And I pray.
What is happening in those moments? I’m praying according to Jesus. I’m starting where he starts – with God as my Father – and in the security of God’s love, I pray. Listen, there is no secret to prayer, but this truth is transformative. If you struggle to prayer, don’t start by trying to get more discipline, or by trying to form better habits. Those things are good, but that’s not where we start. Start with God, specifically with who he is as the Father of all who believe.
We Ought to Pray with a Focus on God’s Glory
That’s the first characteristic of God-centered prayer – we pray as children who are secure in God’s love. The second characteristic of God-centered prayer also comes in v2 – according to Jesus, we ought to pray with a focus on God’s glory. Notice again what Jesus says, v2 – “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” Now, these words are familiar to most of us, but what exactly do they mean? When we pray that God’s name be hallowed and that his kingdom come, what are asking God to do?
First of all, hallowed be your name is a call for God’s holy character to be revealed in greater measure. Remember, in Scripture, God’s name stands for his character, for who he is. When Moses at the burning bush sought to know God, he asked to hear God’s name. Or think of that great psalm of worship – Psalm 29 – “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name.” God’s name is the expression of his character. It is the revelation of his glory.
And central to God’s character is his holiness. This is why the angels around God’s throne devote themselves day and night to declare, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” That’s not excessive or mindless repetition. That is the nature, the character of God. Who is the Living God? He is the Holy One.
Now, make the connection with what Jesus says in v2. When we pray ‘hallowed be your name,’ we are expressing our desire that God be seen for who he is. We are proclaiming that the one, great ambition of our hearts is for all the earth to see and know and acknowledge the glory of the Living God. In other words, this declaration is the believer’s way of crying out, “Make yourself known, God! Reveal your glory on the earth!”
And brothers and sisters, this should be central to our life of prayer. Our world has been devasted by sin, and one of the effects of sin is that people cannot see what is most fundamentally true – the glory and majesty of God. Think, for example, of the social unrest we’re witnessing in our nation right now. What is at the heart of that unrest? An unwillingness, an inability to see the glory of God revealed in his world. Whether it is God’s glory revealed in every human being as his image bearer or whether it is God’s glory revealed in the upholding of law and righteousness, what we’re witnessing in the streets is a culture completely blind to the reality of God.
And that means that our deepest desire in prayer is for God’s name to be hallowed, for this glory to be seen and acknowledged in the world. In fact, this is how Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, speaks of our aim as Christians in this world. What are praying for God to do? We’re praying Habakkuk 2.14 – “For the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” What are asking God to use us to do? We’re praying 2 Corinthians 4.6 – that God would use us to “shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Do you hear the emphasis, brothers and sisters? What does this world need to see and know? The knowledge of the glory of God. And so we pray, ‘hallowed be your name.’ We’re praying for God to manifest his glory, to reveal himself as who he is – the Holy One who alone is glorious.
And we see a similar emphasis in the remainder of v2. Look again at what Jesus says – “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” Remember what we’ve learned about the kingdom of God in Luke’s Gospel. God’s kingdom is his redemptive rule and reign over all the earth. It is God’s righteous commitment to overthrow all wickedness and bring to pass all his saving promises. And here in Luke, we’ve see that God’s kingdom has come near in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ miracles demonstrate the presence of the kingdom. But even then, the full realization of God’s redemptive rule is yet to come. The kingdom is already here but not yet fully present.
And Jesus’ point is that our heartbeat in prayer is for that “not-yet” to come. When we pray, our desire is for God’s promises to come to pass in full – for God to draw to himself all of the Lord Jesus’ people. At its core, ‘your kingdom come’ is a prayer for the progress of the church’s gospel mission. Remember, brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus died for his church. He did not die to make salvation possible. He died and rose again to accomplish salvation, definitively for his church. And that means when we pray, ‘Your kingdom come,’ we’re praying for God to call Christ’s people through the preaching of the Word, so that the full number of the redeemed will be brought in to trust and treasure Jesus Christ. That’s what this declaration means in the present. It calls us to focus our hearts in prayer on the continued realization of our gospel mission.
At the same time, we recognize that the church’s gospel mission will only be fully realized on the day that Christ returns. Praying ‘your kingdom come’ also means longing for Jesus’ return. This is key. We cannot finish the work of the kingdom, for the kingdom belongs to Christ. To pray for the kingdom to come is to pray for the King – Jesus – to return and finish what he has started – this grand work of making all things new through his resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, what I’m hoping you see here is how these opening declarations re-center our lives on the glory of God. Believing prayer is focused, first and foremost, on the glory of God. That’s a high calling, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but that makes me realize that my goal in prayer is often far too small. That’s where I was convicted this week. I want to pray in a way that matches the reality of who God is. To say it another way, a glorious God is most honored by massive, world-sized prayers.
Is that how you pray, brothers and sisters – with an eye toward God’s glory covering the earth as the waters cover the seas? Let’s make this our first step of application as a church family. Let’s resolve together to make the glory of God the heartbeat of our prayer. Let’s pray that God would make us holy, so that he is glorified. Let’s pray that God would grow our church, so that his name is exalted. Let’s pray that God would save the lost, all across the globe, so that all the nations would know there is a God who saves. That’s the application according to Jesus. We ought to pray with a focus on the all-satisfying, life-defining glory of God.
As we come to vv3-4, we encounter an astonishing transition. Jesus has just called us to focus on the glory of God in prayer, which is a big, transcendent vision. It’s a global view of prayer. But then, in vv3-4, Jesus quickly shifts and tells us to pray for our daily needs – bread, forgiveness, and protection. That’s a pretty stunning shift, isn’t it? From transcendent glory to everyday life. This is the mercy of God in the gift of prayer. Think about it. Think of how prayer connects our everyday life with God’s grand goal for all of history. On the one hand, we are engaged with God in seeing his glory spread – “your kingdom come,” we pray. And at the same time, we can ask this glorious God to give us what we need today – “give us today our daily bread.” How kind of the Lord, brothers and sisters, to give us such a gift as prayer. Let’s note this third characteristic – we ought to pray as children dependent on God’s provision.
We Ought to Pray as Children Dependent on God’s Provision
In terms of structure, Jesus uses three simple petitions in vv3-4, and each one focuses on a different aspect of God’s provision. First of all, we are to ask for God’s provision in daily life. Note the first petition – “give us each day our daily bread.” Bread here stands for all of life’s needs. And we’re instructed to pray for this provision each day. It’s telling us something about ourselves and something about God. Everyday, we stand in need of God’s help, and everyday, God stands ready to answer. Everyday, then, we walk by faith that God will provide.
Note the kindness of God in giving us this particular petition. By instructing us to pray for our daily bread, God is reminding us that he cares about the small aspects of our lives. He is attentive and attuned to what his people need. This is the nearness of God, brothers and sisters. He is not distant, far off and distracted. He’s so near that we can ask him for today’s bread, and he is willing and able to answer. This is our God, and this is his commitment to us. We can ask even for today’s bread, and he delights to answer.
The second petition instructs us to ask for God’s provision in our spiritual lives. Notice v4 – “and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Just as we need bread to physically live each day, so also we need grace to be renewed spiritually each day. And so, Jesus instructs us to make confession of sin a daily feature of the Christian life. Through prayer, we come before God to confess our need for his forgiveness, and in his grace, God provides what he alone can give. And then, having received God’s forgiveness, we are called to extend forgiveness to others as well. Do you see it there in the verse? A forgiven Christian ought to be a forgiving person. Each day we come to God to receive this spiritual provision of grace.
But notice what this entails about the Christian life. According to Jesus, the Christian life cannot be lived in darkness or in isolation. To receive God’s forgiveness, we must come into the light through confession. The Christian who remains in the darkness endures a double tragedy – he suffers under the weight of a guilty conscience, and he misses the refreshment that comes from knowing God’s forgiveness in Christ.
Listen to Jesus’ instruction here. Make the confession of sin a regular, daily feature of your Christian life. Don’t believe the Evil One’s lie that real Christians don’t struggle with sin. Every believer is battling against the flesh. The question is not the presence of sin but our response to it. Will we confess and embrace the grace of repentance? Repentance – the act of turning from sin and seeking to be holy before God – repentance is not punishment. It is the path to life. Live in the light, brothers and sisters. Even now, if there is something that you need to bring before the Lord, confess your sin and receive the blessing of knowing that your sin is forgiven in Christ Jesus.
If you are not a Christian this morning – if you have not repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation – if you are not a Christian, then I pray you will see that forgiveness is something only God can give. You cannot earn forgiveness. Notice that Jesus doesn’t teach us to negotiate with God. The gospel does not tell us to offer God our good works, so that in exchange he gives us forgiveness. That’s not the gospel. That’s an anti-gospel because it makes God our servant. The biblical gospel says that we contribute nothing to our salvation. God alone forgives, and he forgives those who, by his grace, confess their sin and trust in Jesus Christ. Is that you today, friend? Right now, will you confess your sin and trust in Christ for forgiveness? I pray that you will, and I pray that in doing so, you too will experience the provision of grace that God gives to those who trust him.
Looking again at v4, we see there is one more aspect to God’s provision. We ask for God’s protection over our lives. Notice the last line – “And lead us not into temptation.” Now, the point is not that God leads people into temptation. God cannot be tempted with evil, and he tempts no one. Rather, the point is to acknowledge that our lives unfold according to God’s providence. God governs and guides each aspect of our lives, and therefore, we are to seek his protection so that we do not fall into sin’s power. Remember how God warned Cain in Genesis 4 – that sin was crouching at his door, waiting to devour him. That’s life in this fallen world, and therefore, we ought to pray that God would keep us from temptation.
And so, if you think about these petitions – daily bread, forgiveness, protection – there is one word that ties them all together. Humility. According to Jesus, prayer is rooted in humility. We humble ourselves and ask for God’s provision for our daily needs. We humble ourselves before God, confessing our sin and seeking his forgiveness. And we humble ourselves to acknowledge that we need God to keep us from all evil. At each level we’re engaged in the God-honoring act of humility.
In fact, one of the great dangers of prayerlessness is that it allows pride to grow in our hearts. When we fail to pray, we are, in effect, saying to God, “I don’t need you. I am independent of you and quite capable of handling life on my own.” But that mindset minimizes our need for the grace of God. Remember, Scripture is very clear – “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Who doesn’t need more grace? We all do! And therefore, we ought to pray – not because we’re duty-bound to do so, but because we’re grace-dependent people who seek to walk humbly before God.
That’s one of the encouragements of this text, brothers and sisters. If you long to grow in prayer, train yourself to think of it not as duty or discipline, but as the pursuit and reception of grace. Prayer humbles us before God, and in doing so, prayer puts us in the pathway of God’s gracious provision.
We Ought to See Prayer as Expressed among God’s People
As we get ready to close there is one more characteristic I want to emphasize from the text. This is a short observation, but it’s one that we ought not miss. A final characteristic of God-centered prayer – we ought to see prayer as expressed among God’s people. Again, this is a simple point, but notice the pronouns in the petitions of Jesus’ model prayer. “Give us each day our daily bread.” “Forgive us our sins.” “Lead us not into temptation.” Who is praying in these petitions? It’s the people of God together. It is the community of saints, joining their voices in a humble, God-centered act of faith. That’s not to say that Christians should only pray together. I hope that you pray privately on a regular basis. But this is to say that individual prayer is not the sum total of our prayer lives. We ought to be praying with and for one another. The Christian life is not a solo venture. It’s not something we can handle ourselves. It is a fundamentally a community pursuit. “Give us our daily bread,” Jesus teaches us to pray.
This is why we incorporate prayer throughout our worship services. This is why we have a monthly, church-wide prayer meeting. This is why we encourage you to pray through the membership directory. We’re seeking to follow Jesus by praying together as a church. It’s not a small thing, in other words, to pray with and for one another. Just this week, I had a meeting with a church member. When we ended, I prayed for him, and he prayed for me. It was an encouragement to my soul, probably far more than that brother realized.
Pray for the church, brothers and sisters. Pray with the church. And as you do, remember that prayer is not a duty-focused act of obligation. It’s not a me-centered attempt to control God. No, prayer is, quite simply, a God-centered act of faith. Amen.